Published on December 13th, 2016 | from CAMH
Homelessness and the Holidays: Making a difference that can last well past Boxing Day
By Dr. Sean Kidd, Clinical Psychologist and Clinician Scientist in CAMH’s Complex Care and Recovery Program
In the writing of this piece on homelessness and the holidays, the first thing to come to mind was to start out with that fairly hackneyed theme contrasting the gift buying and holiday family activities of those more fortunate with those who have the least.
I am going to resist that urge and try something different – to propose that this time of year not be a ‘season of giving’ but rather a time to commit to the larger, social and political effort to reduce inequity in Canada.
The bad news
Family, youth and adult homelessness has been a pervasive problem for decades with little indication that the dial has shifted – we continue to have the same conversations about the same problems be it 1913 in New York City or 2016 in Toronto. For example, our recently completed national survey of youth homelessness is a tale of systemic failures and missed opportunities – problems that leave thousands of Canadian children and youth deeply impoverished, marginalized and criminalized. All the more so if they experience layers of systemic discrimination that attend sexual and/or gender minority identities or Indigenous heritage. Such trajectories play out for adult, elderly and newcomer Canadians as well, as we employ inefficient systems that emphasize crisis response rather than prevention from primary to tertiary levels.
The better news
I am more hopeful now that a difference might be made since I first walked into the Ottawa Shepherds of Good Hope drop in in 1995 and asked if I could help out. We have made inroads with housing first initiatives such as At Home/Chez Soi – led by our very sorely missed CAMH colleague the late Dr. Paula Goering, who left this unparalleled legacy in Canadian community mental health research and practice. We have aligned policy engagement from municipal, to provincial and federal levels. This includes in Ontario the Local Poverty Reduction Fund, Poverty Reduction Strategy and Housing Strategy, advocacy and action by the City of Toronto and the recently released National Housing Strategy. We see national coalitions and forums organizing to coordinate efforts.
These synergies are extremely important, galvanizing action and resources at a systemic level and are far more impactful than the dispersed, disorganized and inadequate resource approaches that are currently in place in most jurisdictions.
What you can do
As imposing as this issue seems, there is a lot that we as individuals can do. You can add an extra item to your weekly grocery list and drop it in the food bank bin. If you have people who are homeless in your neighbourhood, you don’t need to rush by and avoid eye contact – you can say hi, learn their name over time and engage whether you give change, a coffee or a smile. You can donate time or sign on for monthly donations to one or some of the many highly effective and innovative Toronto organizations that provide shelter and other supports to homeless people. You can engage the organization that you work in to make a corporate donation. You can let your city councillors and members of provincial and federal parliament know that we need to build on initial promising efforts to end chronic homelessness and get better at prevention; that this is a non-partisan and multi-ministry/government issue that requires collaboration and long term investment.
In sum – get engaged, be a part of the conversation and be a part of the effort to end this form of injustice and inequity in Canada. This is something far better and more significant than a season of gift giving.